Zooming In on Middle School Teachers

Zooming In on Middle School Teachers

Teaching Remotely

Read about burnout, back-up plans, and the surprisingly sweet moments of connection teachers have experienced firsthand in our “Zooming In” interview series. In this series, four teachers share their experiences with internet issues, mischievous cats, taking care of their own children, worries about disengaged students, and overcoming new challenges.


Dezere is a language arts teacher in southeast Ohio; she teaches in Meigs county but lives in a bigger city outside the district. It’s been a unique challenge reaching kids who live far out in rural areas, and at first, the district was “blindsided” by the initial adjustments to the pandemic. In her own words, Dezere says she learned that “my job’s harder than maybe even I gave myself credit for...I recognize now that I’m more than just a teacher,” citing times when students showed up for online sessions just because they missed seeing her. Throughout the experience, Dezere has learned new ways to cope and had new opportunities to stretch problem-solving muscles.

One of the biggest challenges for Dezere has been making sure the students she’s not in contact with are able to receive an equitable amount of work: about 50% of her students have not been able to get onto the online learning platform, and for many, it’s because of socioeconomic status. During the first weeks of the pandemic, the school tried to purchase hot spots, but wasn’t able to distribute them. Instead, teachers have had to come up with an alternate curriculum for students who can’t access a reliable internet connection. The district has also reached out to community facilities like churches, some of which have opened up their parking lots for students to use WiFi from laptops and tablets in their cars. The other side of this challenge is “the teacher worry. They’re my kids and I haven’t heard from them.”

Through Google Classroom, Dezere has been holding Google Meet sessions throughout the week that serve as office hours for academics as well as morning sessions where the class plays a game or has a discussion to work on social and emotional learning. She uses Google Stream for students to discuss the books they are reading through comments. One of the things Dezere hoped her students would understand is that the online classroom can still be engaging and that those connections don’t just go away when they’re not in the classroom. Dezere was pleasantly surprised that she has been able to maintain some of that energy and community; she was feeling pretty negative at first while making her lesson plans, but her students have proven to be very resilient. She says, “I still feel a good sense of joy and connectedness with my students that I didn’t expect to feel through this.”

While Dezere is grateful to work in a profession that allows her to work from home, that comes with a lot of other mixed feelings. She spent her last day with her students unaware that it would be their last day together; that she wouldn’t be able to give her students one last hug or help them clean out their locker. “Those are the things that make me sad. You know, you work with these kids for a whole year and you rely on those ceremonies and rituals to really feel like you can let them go off to the next grade level, and so there’s like a sense of unfinished-ness.”

One of the most surreal but memorable moments of this experience was the dog running in while she was helping a student, giving them a good laugh together. “It’s weird to see these two worlds come together...and that’s okay that these two worlds are together right now and they’re functioning and they’re working.” Some of the challenges of teaching online have turned into great opportunities: the reading fair that Dezere organizes every year was successfully shifted to an online platform, and she was impressed with the websites some of her students built.

On her biggest worry or fear during the coronavirus pandemic, Dezere said, “I think that this event, this piece of history that we’re all living through right now is going to change so much more than just the here and now. I don’t think it’s going to be something where it’s over and we’re back and everything’s normal. And I worry about that. I worry that this is going to shift our routines and what school looks like.” She and her fellow teachers are exploring the different ways they might have to adapt their classrooms in the fall and waiting for Ohio Department of Education to provide some direction. Overall, she worries that things might never be the same and the kids might never be the same.


Erin is a 7th grade math teacher in a rural school district in northeast Connecticut with all pre-k through 12 students on one campus. Most students in her area have internet access, but don’t have enough bandwidth to use video on zoom calls. While everyone in her small, tight-knit community is missing their end-of-the-year festivities, they are working together to find alternative ways to celebrate their students and say goodbye for the summer. For instance, parents have started a Facebook page to “adopt” high school seniors, and send them gift baskets. They are planning two end-of-the-year parades for elementary-middle school teachers and high school seniors.

Erin wants administrators and parents to know that even though each teacher will find different solutions for remote learning, they are all giving it 100%. Her math team came up with an ambitious plan they wanted to share with the other teachers, but when their principal told them to “slow down,” they realized that teachers with their own children would have a harder time implementing it. (No one on the math team has their own kids.) According to Erin, “What you’re seeing is teachers working harder than they’ve ever worked before because they had to recreate everything. We’re all working like we’re first-year teachers again.” She also mentioned one science teacher at her school reading passages out loud and recording them for students who have trouble reading.

“This is stuff teachers do all the time anyway,” Erin said, “but it’s just even more outside the box now because you don’t have the things you bought from the teacher catalogs in your classroom.” Using a whiteboard app to see students’ math work in real-time has been extremely useful, but teaching geometry remotely has posed its own unique challenges, especially since Erin left about half of her supplies at school. So far she has improvised to teach volume by layering crochet squares on top of each other and pouring water dyed green with food coloring into different shaped containers. Her students had a good laugh when her cat Thaddeus started drinking and playing in the green water.

Breaking up the monotony and making each day different and exciting has been another challenge. Giving students options is important to Erin; she knows that many of them don’t like to see themselves on the screen, so she records her lessons and also teaches live. One day when she was feeling sad, she wore a Ninja Turtle outfit to all of her classes, much to the delight of her students. She’s using a “penguin cup challenge” to keep them connected and interested in school; they earn penguin points for participating in selfie challenges, doing acts of kindness, and trying other silly activities.

Not seeing her students’ faces has been the hardest part of remote learning for Erin. “There’s so much that a face can tell you,” she said, remembering a student in her class who seemed a little off. When she asked what was wrong, she learned that the student’s family had to put their dog down the day before. She laments that teachers have lost the ability to innately know what their students are going through, or at least know when to ask. She has noticed that her kids aren’t counting down to summer the same way they usually do, and she worries about how they will stay happy and engaged over the summer. However, she’s observed that “the kids are more resilient, I think than we are, and so we’re always worried about their health, their mental health, and they’re just like ‘aah, I didn’t do my work!’”

Erin points out that teachers are planners and ultimately concerned with their students’ safety, so not having a plan to keep their kids safe has been really troubling: “Ask any teacher their plan for an intruder and holy crow do they have one. And they’re creative and they’re crazy, but the teacher knows exactly what they would do. And so it’s like situations like this--I don’t know yet what we’re gonna do.”

In preparation for next fall, the 7th grade team is working on transition videos to welcome incoming 6th graders, and teachers will hold office hours for their incoming students before school is out. Depending on what happens in the fall, Erin thinks that meeting students for the first time online will look very different. Right now she can hear her students’ voices through their chat messages, but it won’t be easy to get to know new students virtually. She will have higher expectations for digital participation if that’s the case. If they do go back to school, that will look different too; it’s going to be hard not to give hugs. She adds, “I just think it’s going to be very strange, no matter what happens.” Erin still hasn’t figured out how to handle the last day with her own students, and she’s not looking forward to cleaning out her classroom; “I think there’s still boxes of tissues and chocolate in there, so I’ll be alright.”


Joe is in his 13th year of teaching and has two kids of his own. He was AMLE’s teacher of the year last year and Pennsylvania’s teacher of the year for 2020. Living and working in the same space with no commute to “change gears from teacher to parent” has left Joe with less time to recharge, which sometimes leads to feelings of burnout. He reflects, “I’m just kind of like this dad-teacher-guy right now for my own kids.” When new opportunities come up, Joe asks himself “Can I sustain this and make it meaningful for the audience it’s going to, for myself, for my family, and for my students?” He stresses that content is a secondary worry for educators compared to students’ well-being and a feeling of connection with them. During our interview with him, Joe could see bubbles floating past his window from his kids playing outside.

Joe has heard from a lot of other teachers that they feel like they have never worked harder, but he thinks a big factor in that exhaustion is the delay in feedback: as teachers build up their learning environments in person, they are able to see instantly what’s working and what’s not working for their students. However, in the virtual classroom, that feedback takes longer to come through, and it can be draining.

In response to some headlines he has seen that suggest remote learning practices should be used to save money, Joe warns that “there is nothing that will ever replace a face to face interaction.” Of course, there are some aspects of remote learning that will be adopted going forward because they have real advantages in the classroom. But he notes that “nothing replaces a fist bump in the hallway” or a smile and a “good morning.” As a parent and an educator, Joe believes that authentic face-to-face interactions are vital to any school environment. “I can see a reaction in my own daughter’s eyes when she has something that’s from a book publisher, and then when she hears her own teacher talking through a lesson—completely different reactions.” Another thing Joe has learned during this experience is how important a teacher’s voice is to their students. While we may joke about using “teacher voice,” students do feel comforted when they hear their own teacher’s voice.

One of the advantages of remote learning that Joe has observed is making materials available for students to access all the time. His students have really enjoyed the flexibility to work on their own schedule, but there’s a negative side to that as well: both students and teachers can feel like they need to be “always-on.” According to Joe, “It’s kind of a double-edged sword from a mental health standpoint, from both sides.” Some parents and families are more hesitant to engage with virtual meetings and technology, and balancing between the active families and those who are less engaged has been a big challenge.

Another positive thing Joe has observed is that virtual meetings are opening up new possibilities for efficiency. For instance, using a zoom webinar for morning announcements could allow the entire school to “visit” each classroom and create a sense of community at the beginning of the day, and some short in-person meetings could be held virtually to save time.

Joe’s administrators have been really supportive and understanding. They recognize that, much like the students, every teacher is coming into this with their own situation at home and their own strengths. For instance, while one teacher may be really comfortable with calling students on the phone every day, another teacher might make really great videos for their class instead. He views remote learning as an opportunity to highlight those differences and individual talents while allowing teachers to be leaders for others with similar talents.

While Joe believes this situation has been traumatic for his students, the feeling he’s experiencing himself is a sense of grief. “You get so used to these months, and this is when students, interpersonally—they blossom. This is when that trust that you've developed as a class all year, really, it’s almost indescribable to convey how students...open up, and you have that family now.” Having grown closer over the past several months, Joe and his students are trying to recreate their end-of-year traditions and celebrations, but he recognizes that they are not the same. The challenge here is to figure out how to honor those traditions that have been lost while still moving forward and focusing on the future. Having a lot of extra time to think right now has been good in some ways and dangerous in others. Moving forward into the summer, he worries about students feeling alone or isolated, dealing with difficult questions, and ultimately remaining engaged when there’s no routine.

Surprisingly, an online game night with his academic team, their families, and their students that had nothing to do with school was the most normal they had all felt in a long time. “When it boils down to what makes effective teachers effective, it’s that...when you can emotionally connect on some level with a student and make them feel welcome, and you’re basically dropping all of those protective barriers...there’s the adage don’t let the student see you smile until after the new year; I don’t subscribe to that. But you are shedding that guard completely.” Joe felt that seeing the inside of his students’ homes (and vice-versa) helped them connect as people with real emotions outside their roles as teacher and student. Joe has been amazed at the resiliency of some of his students remaining engaged while fighting their own battles: “I know they’re at home and their parents are both essential workers, yet they’re staying right there with you. They’re in every Zoom call, they are smiling, they’re still bringing energy.”


Kristen is an English teacher in a low-income school district outside Cleveland. She is in her 4th year of teaching and has an 18 month old daughter. “I've seen a lot of…’why are we still paying the teachers?’ online,” Kristen said, “and that’s really discouraging because we’re putting in so much time and effort, so I hope they know that...we’re not always going to get it right, but we’re not going to give up.” Kristen wants parents and the broader country to know that educators are trying as hard as they can to make this as seamless as possible for the students. Her message to them is that “We’re all in this together like everybody keeps saying, and we’re still going to show up no matter what.” This experience has taught her a new level of patients for parents, students, administrators, and colleagues.

The biggest challenge for Kristen has been continuing to connect with students when she can’t see them everyday. Collaborating with other teachers throughout the transition to remote learning has been extremely helpful. As an English teacher, she has surprised herself a bit with her own ability to pick up new technology and use it to recreate her lessons online. However, assigning work on Google Classroom does not carry the excitement that passing out physical assignments or talking through them together in person does. Not being able to physically see her students means she can’t really tell if they are following along and understanding the lesson at hand, which has contributed to a feeling of burnout, and when the “aha” moments do happen on Zoom, they are not as satisfying.

These feelings come in waves for Kristen: “Some days I feel more helpless than other days. I feel happy that we are moving into the summer, but at the same time I feel nervous and worried for my students, that I haven’t been able to give them a proper goodbye. And kind of just unsure of the future.” She hopes her students know how much their effort is appreciated. So many of them have been very patient and dove in head first with new programs, which she is thankful for. “Some of these students are doing better online than they were in the actual classroom,” Kristen said, “and it just kind of shows that there’s no one-size-fits-all for education.” It’s always a pleasant surprise when students who didn't “show up” in the classroom show up for class online.

Thinking ahead to this summer and what things will look like when school starts up again in August, Kristen is worried about the emotional trauma her students will continue to experience and their physical appearance and well-being: “Teaching in a low income district, my biggest worry and fear is that my students are going to come back weighing less, with lower self esteem because oftentimes we were their safe haven.”

Kristen hopes her administrators know how hard it’s been for teachers to balance family, teaching, grading, and still turn the computer off at night. She shared a story about one morning when she had 15 minutes to get her daughter changed, fed and put down for a nap before a Zoom call and got it all done in a mad scramble. She keeps her daughter entertained during staff meetings at home by watching a lot of Fancy Nancy on Disney Channel.

Author: AMLE
Number of views (2083)/Comments (0)/
Topics: Teaching
A View from the Ground

A View from the Ground

Middle school teachers navigating online teaching in the time of COVID-19

In March 2020, most school districts in the US moved to fully online instruction as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. With this radical and unprecedented change, middle school teachers have had to adjust to the challenges of teaching young adolescents online, and meeting the needs of students who are developmentally “in the middle.”

Here we describe the efforts of two middle school teachers, Ariana (science) and Gina (math), to take their teaching online. When schools went online, Ariana and Gina began journaling weekly to document changes to their instruction, their concerns about their students, and their own feelings about this dramatic change to their teaching. The essay is organized around the essential attributes of middle level education as outlined in This We Believe: Keys to Educating Young Adolescents; successful online schooling for young adolescents must be developmentally responsive, challenging, empowering, and equitable. Within each section, we draw from Ariana and Gina’s journals to provide examples of how some teachers are addressing these attributes.

Online Education for Young Adolescents Must Be Developmentally Responsive

Middle school is a crucial time in an adolescent’s development, and one’s middle school experience can have a dramatic influence on their future learning trajectories. In moving instruction online, Ariana and Gina reflected on the ways in which they worked to be developmentally responsive before the change and took action to figure out how to maintain these practices in an online environment.

For Ariana, an important part of being a developmentally responsive teacher is understanding where students are and how to get them where they need to be. Before the pandemic, she relied on classroom discussions to involve students in discourse around science topics, both for checking understanding and establishing norms for sharing ideas. With the switch to online learning, Ariana felt she lost the opportunities for exchange of ideas that she valued. One way to support discourse is through synchronous video class meetings, but relying too heavily on synchronous meetings can be inequitable. Challenging herself to find a solution, Ariana found Padlet, a virtual bulletin board where students can post audio, text, or video. Students can comment on their classmates’ ideas, and a discussion can occur in real time as students participate from their own computers. Ariana found it useful to encourage discourse between her students, and reading their ideas helped her make decisions about how to plan online meetings and lessons.

Gina also used technological tools to advance her teaching while still attending to her students’ developmental needs. She notes that for many adolescents, pre-algebra and algebra appear as a challenging new language. Asking middle school students to use new language for mathematical reasoning online calls for a teacher who anticipates these challenges and creates an environment in which students feel comfortable learning new things. Gina provided her students with a weekly video in Screencastify in which she guided students through the outline of the lesson and created short instructional videos on math content. She found that students began to anticipate the video as part of their new weekly routine. As a developmentally responsive middle school teacher, Gina recognizes young adolescents seek structure, especially during a time when their routine is disrupted.

Online Education for Young Adolescents Must Be Challenging

Young adolescents are rapidly developing intellectually and are increasingly prepared to grasp more complex ideas. Middle school teachers who understand this develop challenging lessons and engage students in active learning.

Stereotypically, active learning in science is associated with “hands-on” learning, which is difficult in an online environment. But the key to active learning in science is what students do with their minds more than what they do with their hands. Ariana engages students in wondering about everyday phenomena and using what they know to construct scientific arguments. She begins with a warm-up question through an asynchronous discussion board format where students can respond to the question and others’ ideas. In a recent lesson about human impact on the environment, the students were asked to describe what materials make up a Happy Meal™. After they shared their own ideas and responded to others’, students read an article explaining the natural resources that go into making fast food. While reading, they are challenged to make a list of all renewable and non-renewable resources used. Ultimately, students are asked to write an argument to address whether making a Happy Meal™ is good or bad for the environment using a graphic organizer for developing arguments. Students develop a claim, drawing on evidence from the video, and justify it using the evidence and scientific principles. This asynchronous background work sets the stage for a synchronous class in which students present and critique others’ arguments.

Gina recognizes that both mathematical language and concepts can be challenging and that students need opportunities to confront these challenges, particularly as the language and concepts become more abstract in algebra. Gina values rigor and believes online instruction must create a balance so students can feel confident about the content and challenged through productive struggle. Gina gives students opportunities to explore math concepts synchronously through class discussions and asynchronously using videos, images, and interactive programs such as Desmos and Geogebra. She sets the tone in synchronous meetings for students to discover mathematical concepts through their own exploration, peer collaboration, and discussion.

Online Education for Young Adolescents Must Be Empowering

Early adolescence is a time of uncertainty with respect to self-confidence, peer relationships, and independence. The social isolation and disruption of routine that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic can be particularly challenging for students who are developing quickly. Empathetic middle school teachers attend to their students’ socio-emotional development even in online environments and work to help their students imagine and construct their own future learning trajectories.

Ariana has found that the switch to online learning has been empowering for many of her students. As students take more responsibility for their learning, they are accountable to log in to the learning management system and complete assignments; there is really no way for the teacher to continuously remind all of her students. This level of responsibility, while potentially empowering, can be overwhelming for a student. To help support them, Ariana’s school created an “Online Agenda Book” that students can use, which gives them instructions for each day of the week. Ariana models the use of this resource with her classes in synchronous meetings and schedules individual meetings when students need more help organizing. This resource creates a structure that makes the organization of students’ time and work manageable. In the past, structures in the school have served this purpose. In the absence of school structures, but with adequate support, Ariana has found that students can become empowered to take control over what and how they learn.

Gina agrees that in this difficult time, students have learned a great deal about their own learning preferences, work ethic, motivation, and organization. Students do not usually have to fully utilize these skills until higher grade levels, but Gina sees her students doing it. During synchronous meetings, she continues to encourage students and congratulate them for handling the work for all of their classes. To Gina, a large part of empowering students when so much has been disrupted is finding ways to show she cares. She uses online platforms to keep in touch with students and their families, and she works with parents to help them assist their children.

Online Education for Young Adolescents Must Be Equitable

This We Believe calls for creating a classroom environment that is equitable for all students. The move to online instruction creates additional challenges for equitable education. While most students have access to computers or smartphones, Ariana and Gina teach in a large, diverse public school district, and some students lack the crucial time, flexibility, and resources that others have. Some may not have dependable Internet connectivity, and in some families there is only one computer or smartphone that has to be shared. In some cases, students have increased responsibilities at home and may have to help younger siblings with their schoolwork. Some may even have ill family members. Of the AMLE essential attributes, Ariana and Gina agree that creating equitable instruction online provides the greatest challenge. We assert that the pandemic, and the accompanying changes to teaching and learning, calls us as educators to be more attuned and empathetic to the diverse needs and challenges our students and their families face. This is a time that calls for maximum flexibility, and Ariana and Gina have worked hard to provide a variety of ways to engage students in challenging learning, communicate with students and families, and allow students to produce and submit assignments through diverse means. Great middle school teachers are understanding, empathetic, and flexible. The challenges of teaching online during the COVID-19 pandemic have reaffirmed for Ariana and Gina what they value as teachers and has provided valuable insight that will help them and other teachers meet the needs of young adolescents in a rapidly changing world.

Daniel M. Levin is an associate clinical professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership at the University of Maryland, College Park, specializing in science education, teacher education, and middle school teaching and learning.

Ariana Lulli is a sixth grade science teacher at Parkland Middle School in Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland.

Gina Ethe is an eighth grade mathematics teacher at Benjamin Banneker Middle School in Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland.

J. Elisabeth Mesiner is a doctoral student in science and mathematics education in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership at the University of Maryland College Park. She focuses on middle school mathematics and science teaching and teacher education.

Author: Daniel M. Levin, Ariana Lulli, Gina Ethe, and J. Elisabeth Mesiner
Number of views (679)/Comments (0)/
Equity, Webcams, and More

Equity, Webcams, and More

Consider the connection to equity when asking or requiring students to have their cameras on

Sustainably and systemically focusing on equity (everyone gets what they need), diversity (the combination of people of different backgrounds), inclusion (everyone is invited in and feels they belong), and justice (breaking down the barriers between groups) is a challenge for most schools. The addition of COVID-19 magnifies this difficulty causing many teachers and school administrators uncertainty as to how to meet educational and equity needs at the same time.

I believe students need to be seen and heard in their classrooms, and schools are tasked with helping them learn to use their voices and become visible in ways that work for them. With COVID-19, we find ourselves needing to be differently mindful of students and to be sure to see and hear our teachers.

Emily Style writes "education needs to enable the student to look through window frames in order to see the realities of others and into mirrors in order to see her/his own reality reflected" (Curriculum As Window and Mirror, 1996).By continually asking ourselves to view each decision through the lens of equity, we are better able to make decisions in a multi-faceted way, providing both windows and mirrors.

When considering equity questions, I remind myself to recognize, acknowledge, know, remember, understand, ask, share, and apply. Putting this framework into practice, let's briefly address a commonly asked question “How is asking students to have their cameras on during class connected to equity? We just want to be sure our students are paying attention.”

  • Recognize your limitations. Even the most engaged teacher or administrator cannot recognize and plan for every inequity. While knowing this is true, it is equally important to think about it as the beginning rather than the end of the discussion highlighting the necessity of our ongoing learning about our biases, including multiple points of view in decisions and creating an atmosphere of openness to learning more.
  • Remember, we are in each other's homes without an invitation, permission, or a conversation ahead of time. Liza Talusan, Ph.D., a strategic consultant, and educator working a webinar about this topic offers, "For many, a home is a private place, separate from work, school, and life outside of its doors. Yet, virtual learning thrust teachers, leaders, coworkers, and peers into this private space. With a focus on content, curriculum, meetings, delivery, and engagement, the boundary between home and 'outside of home' quickly became blurred with little to no regard for how this boundary-crossing impacts the environment." 
To get the school going as quickly as possible we often missed the step of discussing how we enter each other's spaces. This intrusion into each other's most intimate areas is exposing to students, parents, and teachers and creates a sense of vulnerability. Seeing into each other's spaces can also give the false sense that we know each other better, which may be true of some and is probably more true for those whose circumstances at home are not a source of discomfort, embarrassment, or judgment.
  • Consider the experiences of all. Think of a student turning the camera off because she watches her siblings while her mom, as an essential employee, goes to work at the grocery store. Imagine a teacher who doesn't feel supported at school for being open as a gay man and whose home is his place to be his authentic self. Should he ask his husband not to get a snack while he is teaching because the kitchen is also the classroom? Consider the student attending a private school on financial aid who does not want his classmates to know his family's socioeconomic status. Remember the students with insecure or no housing and those who don't have computers or wi-fi. 
  • Know that feeling exposed raises anxiety. Increased levels of anxiety make make learning, teaching, parenting, and deciding much more difficult.
  • Remember the normal. Even when students are physically in our classrooms, we aren't always able to tell if they are paying attention.
  • Understand that having cameras on or off is not the most critical factor in this scenario. It is a decision schools can make quickly and uniformly if they choose to do so. To be equitable, we need to be asking other questions such as:
    • How do we--and how should we--talk about equity in our schools?
    • How do we create space for our school community to share their experiences comfortably?
    • How do we listen to and respond to the experiences of our school community members?
  • Share with students your desire to teach them with a foundation of equity and partnership. Create student communication avenues such as surveys, email, and time after class to share their individual needs.
  • Apply the information gathered from the previous questions. Ask students how they can demonstrate their engagement with or without a camera. As we consider this transition, Talusan asks, "How did schools and organizations pay attention to the boundary-crossing that occurred during this time? What might schools and organizations do to engage in more culturally aware and responsive ways of entering into the home?" Administrators can ask teachers to share what has worked and what hasn't in their student, parent, and coworker interactions. Teachers can ask students what is working for them and what isn't in classrooms. 

In graduate school, I learned about systems theory. In brief, systems theory is the belief that organizations are like organisms changing as circumstances change. One tenet of systems theory is that active organizations must "pay attention to the external environment and take steps to adjust itself to accommodate the changes to remain relevant. " (from Five Core Theories -- Systems Theory--Organisation Development). If we consider schools as organisms, they too will have to change with the lessons learned during COVID-19. I hope one change will be viewing the experiences of students and teachers through the lens of equity. And it's not too late to do so now. We rushed to teach online and through packets as quickly as possible and did so for the best of reasons to continue educating our students, and we have already seen many adaptations to our environment. For example, many teachers see a need to reduce the amount of time they are spending teaching and increasing the amount of time with students working together. We can message to our communities a plan to be more firmly rooted in equity and recognize that often when inequities occur, they are unnoticed by those in the decision-making process. The goal is to create systems of communication of proactive education for students, professional development for teachers, and training for parents to create systemic and sustainable support for equity for all.

Jen Cort worked as a counselor, principal, and senior administrator for 25 years before moving to consulting for schools on equity, diversity, inclusion, and justice. Jen is the host of a podcast called Third Space with Jen Cort.

Author: Jen Cort
Number of views (3261)/Comments (0)/
How to Survive and Thrive Teaching Middle School Virtually

How to Survive and Thrive Teaching Middle School Virtually

Advice from an online teacher

When you tell your friends you teach middle school, do they cringe and follow with “It takes a special person to teach middle school”? Or, if you are from some areas of the south, you get a “Bless your heart.” Well, they are right! It does take someone who is willing to be a little weird and a little cool. It takes a teacher who wants to come out of their comfort zone and be vulnerable. A middle school student can see right through you and your authenticity, and this is true even in an online environment!

As the majority of middle school teachers across the world have had to become online teachers practically overnight, I thought this was the perfect time to share some of what I have learned through my experience as a fully online teacher. I realize it is not the same as your challenging situation may be because I have had time to plan and prepare lessons and resources I need each day, but I hope the advice and resources I can offer will be helpful.

I’ve had the privilege of teaching seventh grade math virtually for four years, and I can tell you that teaching middle school students online takes even a little more finesse than my years in a face-to-face classroom. My students are the tech gurus, but they don’t know how to access your Google classroom. They can record themselves all day on TikTok, but they don’t know how to download a document. They can watch YouTube videos for hours, but they get bored a few minutes into a teacher-created video. So, how do you keep them engaged, learning, and begging for more?

Here are a few simple tips:

Pay attention.

They want to know you are listening to them. They want to know you can “see” them through the computer. They want positive affirmations when they do well, and they want to know you see them when they are not working. They want to know they matter. So, how do you pay attention to all of your students? This can be challenging! Each week, I start by calling my failing students. I open their grades and go through their work with them on the phone. Then, they can re-submit and correct work. They can also hop into my virtual office on Zoom where I pull up assignments, write on a whiteboard and actually see their face. Each Friday, I send out texts and emails with positive affirmations to students who have submitted their work or done something I can praise them for! Students love to show their families these texts and emails. It gets their weekend started off right! If you have a class reward system, award them points. Class Dojo is a great site where you can input your students’ names and award them points. My students work HARD for those Class Dojo points. You may need to change the rewards to something you can do virtually. They can redeem them for extra credit, being me for a day, picking a song before you start your lesson, and a variety of other rewards.</e,>

Make it fun!

Create interactive and engaging lessons. Play games with your students during the lesson! That’s right...even when teaching new content! Sometimes it may feel easier to deliver the content, model the problems, and let students practice. But, what if you played games while you were teaching the lesson? My top favorite games to play with my students are Pop the Balloon, Whole-Class Escape Rooms, Connect Four, and using a board game (either in PowerPoint or physically showing one with my camera). The students are engaged and learning. They want a turn to play and will do just about anything for a chance to “pop” that balloon! See below for quick videos on how to incorporate these into your classroom immediately.

Although much of your recent online work may be asynchronous due to varying schedules of your students’ home situations and perhaps sharing of devices, it really can help you connect to your students to offer some live instruction. I challenge you to give some of these synchronous lessons a try. These fresh experiences might be just what your students need to keep them motivated through the end of the year.

Pop the Balloon!                    Whole-Class Escape Room  
Connect Four Gameboard Play


Another way to make it fun is to have a class party. We have a party every month where we showcase student talents, play music or games, etc. Since I teach online all year, once a month works great for my team. If you are doing distance learning for a short time, maybe you do something fun on Monday to start your week out strong or maybe you do something on Friday to end on a good note. Some fun party ideas are:

Student DJ Party Students send in songs and vote on which ones to dance to. Encourage cameras to be on! Remind them of dancing etiquette and appropriate clothing.

Student Spotlight Have students send in a slide with fun facts about themselves, but no pictures. Students must guess who the mystery person is on each slide. Throw in one about yourself! You and your students will learn so much about each other. I am always surprised at how much they already know!

Themed-Out Parties Pick a fun theme and do everything around that theme. For example, a virtual SNOW party! We had a virtual snowball fight by throwing paper at our cameras. It sounds silly, but the laughs that came out of that moment were priceless. We included winter-themed crossword puzzles, word searches, coloring pages, and more. What theme would you want to do?

Student Talent Show Students video themselves performing their talent and then show them one by one during the show. You would be surprised what some of your students’ talents are. Students love it! We recorded it and sent it out to families to watch later as well. *Make sure when students send in that they are giving permission to send out later.

Keep it simple.

Take a look at what you’re having students do each week. Are you having them log onto several platforms to complete work? Are they struggling with their usernames and passwords? Look at your current set up and see what’s working and what’s not. The fewer logins the students need, the less frustrated families and teachers will feel. I also suggest reaching out to other teachers. Collaborate with them on the platforms they are using as well. For example, for a couple of years I tried different scheduling platforms for my calls with families. There are five other teachers on my team. Since we all share the same students, we decided to use the same platform for scheduling calls. Our families really appreciated this! It made it simple for them, and I had a much better turnout of families making appointments. This significantly reduced the time it took to track down students.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself.

We tell students all the time to step away from the computer, but I can never remember to eat lunch! Make sure you are stepping away. Move around, go for a walk, cook lunch, or make a phone call to a friend. I set a timer when I need to get up and move around. This allows me to take care of myself without losing track of time. When I come back to the computer, I’m a much happier person and can handle situations better. Set office hours and stick to them. Do not work outside those hours and encourage your teammates to do the same. Parents will get used to receiving immediate responses. You have to protect your personal time as well. It can wait until the morning, I promise. Working from home can be hard because your computer is always there. Make sure to shut it off and put it away. If you work out of an office, shut that door at the end of the day and don’t go back in! It took me a long time to get good at this. But I am a better teacher, wife and mom when I set a schedule and stick to it.

No one knows for sure when this new reality of online teaching in a time of COVID-19 will end for good, but I hope that you have learned some tricks and tools that you may be able to implement even when you are not able to physically have your students in your classrooms. In the meantime, every day will not be perfect. It takes practice and routine to get online teaching down and even then, one setback can derail an entire day. One minute you may feel like a rock star, and the next minute you might be downing a bag of candy. Take some deep breaths and know that you can do this. You are a teacher. Keep showing up for your students. Keep doing your best. I know you are.

Melissa Martin currently serves as a middle school math teacher and content lead for Florida Virtual School. She was recently named 2020-2021 Florida Virtual School’s District Teacher of the Year.

Stacie K. Pettit, Ph.D. is an associate professor in the College of Education at Augusta University, Augusta, Georgia. She is also a proud first cousin of Melissa Martin.

Author: Melissa Martin, Stacie Pettit, Ph.D.
Number of views (2753)/Comments (0)/
Topics: Teaching

Ending the School Year Remotely

The final weeks of the school year are full of bittersweet reflection on special memories and mixed feelings about the year to come. Students come together to say goodbye to their classmates for the summer, the first step in preparing themselves to come back to new teachers in the fall. For those beginning and ending middle school, it’s the start of an important transition and entirely new school experience. Underneath the outward excitement about warm weather, free time, and family vacations, the students process their hopes and fears for the coming months together, building strong friendships and opening up to new experiences.

Students making the transition into and out of middle school face the reality that they are leaving behind many of their friends and familiar routines and expectations. Things are going to be different, but they don’t entirely understand how. End-of-year celebrations and gestures of recognition usually provide some closure and give students an extra nudge forward into their next phase of education—but not this year. Some students will end their elementary school journeys, and eighth graders will finish middle school at home in front of a computer, if they have access.

As we wrap up our final units and communicate with students and their families about our schools’ plans for ending the academic year, we must take extra care to recognize the big transitions our students are making and express an understanding that they will need extra guidance and support. In AMLE’s position paper on the transition into and out of middle school, we emphasize that the transition to a new school is a process that takes place over time, not all at once during a ceremony or the first and last days of school. While some of the activities that make up your normal transition program will be more difficult to facilitate as a large group, the key factors at work are still there and still need to be addressed. It’s a good idea to review the procedural, social, and academic changes your students will be going through and work with other staff to share the responsibility of preparing students to transition while learning from home.

The biggest challenge of ending the middle school year remotely will be to establish relationships with incoming middle schoolers--who ended the year under traumatic circumstances and without typical preparation for middle school--and make more space for eighth graders to prepare for the transition to high school. They will need extra support with navigating their new school and space to voice their feelings about the upcoming transition to teachers, mentors, and each other. With communication and teamwork, school leaders, teachers, staff, parents, and students themselves can work together to ensure transitioning students build relationships at their new schools that will connect them with the knowledge and resources they need to thrive.

Here are some strategies your school can use now to ease your students’ transitions under shelter-in-place orders:

  • Reach out to high schoolers to speak to your eighth grade class and prepare incoming sixth graders by reaching out to elementary schools to see what was covered and how class was conducted during the pandemic.
  • Match incoming students with mentors to connect virtually or become email pen pals over the summer.
  • Give your current students the opportunity to write a message or make a video for students in the incoming grade, and ask freshman classes at your high school to do the same for your eighth graders.
  • Dedicate some class time to talking about the soft skills students will need to thrive in their new school. The Bridges Course at Graded, the American School of São Paulo, Brazil covers community, diversity, resiliency, and responsibility.
  • Create a vertical team of middle and high school teachers in your district to focus on adapting the transition process for your current circumstances.
  • Plan plenty of opportunities for peer and student mentor interaction early next school year for social and academic success.

Of course, whatever support you are able to organize at school will be greatly affected by the way each student’s family handles this transition at home. After weeks of remote learning, we know just how different each student’s home life is and how varied their parents’ ability to support and attitudes are towards schooling at home. It’s incredibly important now to show parents that teachers and school leadership are in their corner and support them with insights on how to motivate their middle schoolers at home. A strong home-to-school connection may be the most important lifeline for students in transition this year.

Ask parents to stay alert to signs of depression or anxiety in their child and seek help for students who are struggling. Whenever they identify anxieties related to their child’s new school, encourage parents to turn them into positive action by learning about those things that are anxiety-provoking (e.g., school rules, schedules, locker procedures). Encourage older siblings to connect with younger siblings to talk about their school experience and answer questions.

In order to create a moment of solidarity between students and families and raise funds for families battling cancer and at highest risk for COVID-19, AMLE has partnered with the HEADstrong Foundation on our #Family1st campaign. Friday, May 15 marks International Day of Families, and this campaign encourages families of middle schoolers to do something fun together for 27 minutes on that day or in the week following: HEADstrong will be sponsoring a TikTok Dance Challenge and awarding the family with the most creative video with gear, prizes, and recognition on social media.

Share these details with your students’ families and encourage them to participate!

Author: AMLE
Number of views (1977)/Comments (0)/
Topics: Teaching

Equity in the Virtual Classroom

On a normal school day, you could walk into any middle school classroom in the world and find a group of young people with a wide range of experiences and identities, all in a unique moment of their development as human beings. The intellectual diversity of students is one of the most fun and rewarding aspects of working with this age group, but when students and educators can’t gather in the physical space of a school, the classroom dynamics and activities teachers rely on to build the relationships that create a sense of equity are almost completely gone.

The task of “meeting students where they are” becomes much more literal and complex for educators; one of the first tasks for administrators has been to adapt breakfast and lunch programs to reach students who rely on their school to get enough to eat. The families that students typically leave at home during the school day are now ever-present as they are tasked with remote learning; for some, two parents are living and working at home, some have single parents caring for them, and some students are responsible for taking care of siblings. Most of these situations were very real and present for students before COVID-19, but now they are inescapable.

At the same time, teachers have a much harder time monitoring their students’ engagement and well-being. In the virtual classroom, a struggling student may be completely un-responsive, giving no indication why they are not engaging with learning modules or turning in work. Other students fall between the cracks and their learning gap widens because they don’t have the support they need to follow through and do their best. Assessing student work with equity in mind becomes a guessing game when each student has a different level of access to school materials and a different home experience.

If high-performing middle schools provide the best educational experience for their students when they create an equitable learning environment, how do we begin to translate those dynamics and practices to the digital space? When we get back to school, how do we use this experience to better adapt school services to meet students’ needs? It’s clear that taking a “one-size-fits-all” approach and giving all students the exact same learning opportunities is not sufficient to serve students from various backgrounds influenced by race, class, gender, and sexuality. That’s why AMLE is engaged in revising our landmark position paper This We Believe, scheduled for release this fall, to take these differences into account as things to be respected and embraced rather than considered a deficit or ignored.

Educators should examine how they can build a school community that models equity for students and families through policies and a culture that acknowledges differences and ensures that students are not punished for them. Students should see themselves reflected in that culture and expect to be respected as individuals. ALL school staff, including teachers, counselors, aides, and administrative and support staff can affirm the voices of all students in the school community.

Educators who practice continuous self-assessment and improvement should always be asking “What am I not seeing?” Teachers need to acknowledge their own cultural background to see their blind spots and gain an understanding of the complex social realities that students are experiencing, as they are always influenced by social identities. Modeling this kind of social responsibility and giving students the opportunity to do so ensures a culturally relevant and respectful education, which colorblind pedagogies are rarely able to provide.

The conversation on making middle school education a truly equitable experience is only just beginning. We have prioritized discussions on equity in our webinars and #mschats, so check out our upcoming topics and get involved!

Author: AMLE
Number of views (1817)/Comments (0)/
Creating Norms When Nothing is Normal

Creating Norms When Nothing is Normal

The value of setting a learning framework with student input during remote learning

Norms are the patterns of behavior defining how we treat each other, ourselves, and our shared spaces. Norms exist in all physical and virtual classrooms. We often create norms at transition points such as the start of the year, term, or quarter. Typically, norms are listed on the walls, are not revisited often, and may be communicated to parents.

Norms exist in all settings. The question is, are they created intentionally or unintentionally? For example, when in school, intentional norms about seating are to assign seats and unintentional norms are when there is no seating assignment, but students sit in the same places each day. Intentional norms are essential and are attached to values. Intentional norms provide routines, agreements, consistency, and a framework for addressing difficult situations.

When reviewed consistently and created with equal contributions of students and teachers, intentional norms provide the guardrails for the classroom. Imagine the norms are the frame around a beautiful picture, with the picture being a reflection of students and teachers working together.

With COVID-19 bringing an entirely new teaching environment, many teachers find themselves reactively creating norms when situations arise. A teacher started her remote class and was frustrated because some of her students were in bed. Telling the students they must all be out of bed at the start of class elicited immediate negative responses. In this case, the teacher created a norm (must be out of bed) without attaching a value (presenting as “ready to learn”) or inviting students into the discussion.

Realizing values and student voice were missing, the teacher reframed the experience asking herself:

  1. What are the classroom values I want the norm to support?
  2. How will I communicate the values to the students?
  3. How will the student's voice be invited into, and heard, in the discussion?
  4. In what areas am I willing or unwilling to be flexible?
  5. How will I ask students what might be missing?

The teacher started class the next day with “I realize I forgot to have a norms discussion. The value I want our norms to support is showing up ready to learn, and I want us to work together to identify how this looks, feels, and sounds. While flexibility is important, some boundaries are necessary, including limiting outside distractions and listening for learning, rather than debate. Let's work together to create our norms, given how quickly things are changing; we will revisit our norms during our last class on Friday and will adjust as needed.”

The teacher asked students to be ready to co-construct norms the next day and invited them to share concerns privately if they had critical contributing factors they didn't feel comfortable sharing with the entire class. COVID-19 and remote learning disproportionately impact students with mental health concerns, physical disabilities, learning differences, lower socioeconomic status, and students who are members of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, question/queer) community, and more. These experiences may be challenging to share with the entire class while being mindful of your school's requirements, so it is essential to create communication streams to allow students to share.

Learning online--and therefore viewing other's homes--can cause students, parents, and teachers to feel exposed. Addressed thoughtfully, the use of norms can help reduce instances of invasion of privacy. When the teacher invited students to share outside of class one student offered that he was in bed during class because it was the only spot in his room where his classmates could not see that he shared a small room with two siblings, while another shared that her anxiety was elevated with COVID-19, and being in her bed made her feel safer.

When the class met to work on norms, the teacher reminded them of the importance of equity. Without providing any identifying information, she incorporated questions such as, “how might we ensure we are not causing someone to disclose a private part of their lives while also being in class together?” The students and teacher collaborated and decided that to be in bed was allowed as were virtual backgrounds, however, students needed to be sitting up, dressed, and presenting as ready to learn.

Our “classrooms” are different now, calling into question how we create norms when nothing is normal. We might consider that while our settings are different, our need to treat each other with fundamental decency is unchanged. Therefore, we create intentional norms by:

  1. Outlining the goals and benefits of norms.
  2. Connecting all norms to values, noting those classroom practices not connected to values are probably habits rather than norms and may be unnecessary.
  3. Including the student voice, giving think-time, outlining the expectations of the discussion, and allowing personal concerns to be raised outside of the group discussion.
  4. Communicating your boundaries, remembering most of us are frustrated when we believe we are working as a group and the facilitator (in this case, the teacher) has not communicated intended outcomes or “no go” areas before the discussion.
  5. Ensuring you include norms for how the group will respond when the norms are challenged.
  6. Reviewing and revising regularly.
  7. Communicating the norms with students and parents or guardians.

If you are wondering where to start, you might pick one of your classroom values, use the steps above to plan, develop words to use with students, consider the “what if's” including how you will respond to challenges, and permit yourself to revise as needed. Intentional norms are even more critical as we are all faced with so many new situations, and we are comforted by as much consistency as possible.

More ideas on creating norms

Jen Cort worked as a counselor, principal, and senior administrator for 25 years before moving to consulting for schools on equity, diversity, inclusion, and justice. Jen is the host of a podcast called Third Space with Jen Cort.

Author: Jen Cort
Number of views (3081)/Comments (0)/
Topics: Teaching
Not Just Tweens: Educators Need to Model Risk-Taking, Too

Not Just Tweens: Educators Need to Model Risk-Taking, Too

Four ways educators can lean into discomfort

To get from Reno to Lake Tahoe School in Incline Village, Nevada, a school official had to drive me up 6,500 feet of steep, narrow roads lined with snow banks. The air thinned as we ascended above the clouds, so she handed me two Advil as soon as we arrived. I needed to be able to present throughout the day and couldn’t afford to get a migraine.

“Altitude sickness—that’s a new one,” I told Bob Graves, the head of school, as we chatted that morning in his office. “I’m used to worrying about the talking part. Until recently, public speaking terrified me.” If Bob was alarmed, he hid it well. “Really? What changed for you?” he asked.

The short answer was that I was tired of getting in my own way, and I felt inauthentic prodding students to stretch while I played it safe. I had interviewed dozens of experts on risk-taking over the years and decided it was time to apply their advice to myself.

We’re all works in progress, and the start of a new decade is a good time to relinquish a few fears and chase long-shelved goals. As educators, we can spend so much time helping students realize their potential that we neglect our own growth. That's a mistake. If we want students to lean into discomfort, we have to take risks, too.

No matter where you are or what you hope to accomplish, here are four strategies that can help you summon the courage to fail.

Forget about yourself.

At my last school, I had to present to a small group of parents in the school library. You would have thought I had to give a TED talk to thousands. I couldn’t sleep for days before the event and was thoroughly depleted by the time it was over. I never wanted to feel that way again. I knew that small exposures extinguish phobias, so I resolved to accept every speaking invitation that came my way.

Fast forward a few years. I was about to deliver my first keynote address but got cold feet when I realized 600 educators would be in the audience. I retreated to the booth above the auditorium to pull myself together. After I took a few deep breaths, I texted Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure. She not only is one of the few people I know who presents all the time, she’s the type of person who will stop whatever she’s doing to help a friend. I prayed that she could get me back in working order.

“I can’t do this,” I told her. “I feel sick. There are too many people here, and they’re all going to be staring at me.” She kindly but firmly told me that no one cared about me. At all. “They want to know if you can help them help kids," she said. “That’s it.” She then suggested I play “You Will Be Found,” from the musical DEAR EVAN HANSEN. I listened to the lyrics, which describe a teen boy in emotional pain who desperately wants to be seen. Once I took myself out of the equation, I was good to go.

Start with the end goal.

Everyone defines risk differently. You might think it’s no big deal to apply for a promotion, but shy away from social risks. An educator might not apply for a team leader position because they don’t want to step on the toes of a friend who wants the position. Or a teacher might hesitate to express a contrary view at a faculty meeting because they worry they'll alienate or offend someone.

Many years ago, I initiated the screening process for a vulnerable student who needed academic interventions. A couple members of the special education team told me in advance that they opposed giving the child an IEP, so the tension was thick even before the first meeting. I anticipated a battle and did my homework but was stunned when the team cast protocol aside and hastily voted against services.

I never questioned whether I should report the infraction, but that meant calling out a couple of my own colleagues. I was scared that I’d permanently damage already-strained relationships. To deal with my fear, I shifted my focus to the end goal. I reminded myself that the student’s right to a fair process mattered far more than my discomfort. I shared my concerns with the principal, who determined that the child’s rights had been violated and instructed us to start over.

Take starter risks.

Risk-taking is like building muscle—it’s a slow, incremental process. To boost your confidence, take starter risks. If you don’t feel ready to present at a national conference, consider a local conference. If that’s too big a risk, try asking a question at the end of someone else’s presentation. If you aspire to write a book, start by submitting an article or contributing to a blog. If you’re not ready to share your ideas publicly, keep a journal, take a writing seminar, or post comments in a closed Facebook group.

The categories of risk don’t have to match. For example, if you want to change jobs but resist change, practice flexibility by trying a different gym or running route. Or join a recreational basketball team with players you don't know.

Capture the underdog effect.

Perhaps someone told you that you’re the wrong person to lead a new initiative, or run a staff meeting, or present at a conference. Or maybe you applied for a job and were told you don’t have what it takes to be successful. Instead of letting others define your limits, leverage the underdog effect. A recent study found that people who believe that others do not expect them to do well are more likely to receive higher performance evaluations from their supervisors. They work extra hard to prove others wrong. If there’s no setback, there can be no comeback.

It took me a long time to submit my first article to The Washington Post. I not only questioned whether my ideas were worth sharing, I worried that others would judge me for thinking I had ideas worth sharing. And then my first piece ran, and my worst fears came to life. A colleague called me a self-promoter and told me I had no business writing anything. I already was plagued by self-doubt, and the criticism nearly derailed me. But it also was a gift in disguise. No way was I going to stop writing and validate that person’s off-base assumptions about me. Frustration kept me moving forward.

Use negativity to your advantage. In fact, take special note of whatever trait most irritates your critics. If you amplify it, you might discover it’s your secret superpower. Stubbornness can morph into determination. Intensity can generate laser focus. Distractibility can lead to sudden bursts of insight.

It's not easy to take risks. All sorts of things can get in the way. But when we lean into discomfort and act with intentionality, we get to narrate our own story. And isn't that what we want to be modeling for our students?

Phyllis L. Fagell, LCPC is the school counselor at Sheridan School in Washington, D.C., a therapist at the Chrysalis Group in Bethesda, MD, and the author of Middle School Matters (Hachette Book Group, 2019). Phyllis also writes The Kappan's weekly Career Confidential column and tweets.
Author: Phyllis Fagell
Number of views (3019)/Comments (1)/
Specific, Candid, and Helpful Responses to Expressions of Racism and Bias

Specific, Candid, and Helpful Responses to Expressions of Racism and Bias

Tools for rehearsing responses to expressions of bias and racism in ourselves and others

Martin Luther King, Jr reminds us that, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” George Floyd’s death, along with so many other individuals of color, pierced something deeper this time, with despair and anger swelling with each passing day. Those of us claiming to teach all students and seeing each of them as infinitely valuable, yet cocooned in unrecognized bias, racism, and indifference, wonder at our own role - and competence - in what comes next. It’s time to do the unsafe thing, educators: To join those already doing the heavy lifting, to humble ourselves in the service of remedying injustice, to put ourselves and political expediencies on the line: to confront and dismantle racism both personal and systemic. We’ll need tools to start, however. Here are a few. – Rick Wormeli, June 2020

An hour later, I had a list of all the things I should have said but didn’t. My colleague had failed to notice racist elements in her comments in the department meeting. In the moment, though, I was stunned, then angry: How could she not see it? How could she perpetuate the very thing we promised to eliminate? With rising adrenaline, I knew if I spoke, I’d stammer, my eyes watering a bit, and it would be an incoherent spew creating defensiveness from the offending colleague. So, I bit my tongue, wallowed in self righteousness, and promised myself to vent with a trusted colleague in another department. I heard and processed nothing else during the meeting.

It was not a proud moment.

We navigate many constituencies in our education lives: our students, their parents, administration, public opinion, researchers, political expediency, social media, and our own moral compasses. As a result, our world is full of regretted instants of would’ve-could’ve-should’ve. Sometimes, or a lot of times, we succumb to self-preservation at the expense of professionalism and students’ rights. T.S. Eliot captures it in, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,”

    Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
    Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
    …But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
    I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
    And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat,
    and snicker,
    And in short, I was afraid.

    — Collected Poems 1909-1962 (1963), poetryfoundation.org

To say the right thing at the right time, especially with something so urgent and affecting as bias and racism, is on conscientious educators’ daily radar, but it can be difficult without rehearsal or versatility. So, let’s rehearse our responses to expressions of bias and racism in ourselves and others so those responses are at our mental fingertips in the moment when they are needed. And let’s build that wide collection of constructive responses so we are flexible and strategic in our statements. Consider the following as a starting point:

Invite Deeper Conversations

  • “Some people would see that as a racist comment. Is that what you intended?”
  • Play “innocent” and ask, “I don’t get it. How is that funny?”
  • As needed, give people the benefit of the doubt
    • Maybe you heard it differently or just didn’t understand: “I’m sorry. Can you say that again? I may have misheard you.”
  • “Is this something you would have said to a white/ Asian/Black/Hispanic, impoverished/affluent, heterosexual/homosexual/transgender, able-bodied person?”
  • “It’s been my experience that… Is this something you’ve experienced?”
  • “Tell me more about that.”
  • Ask questions of integrity and authenticity:
    • “Where does that thinking come from? Is that an unrecognized, inherited narrative?”
    • “Does that comment come from a place of nurture and support, or something else?”
    • “How does that align with your school/family/ faith/beliefs?”
  • Paraphrase — When responding to someone who questions our ideas or believes differently than we do, it helps to start with a clarifying question, not a re-defense of our opinion:
    • What I hear you saying is…
    • Let me make sure I have this correct…
    • In sum, then, you are worried that…
    • Do I have that right?
    • Did I hear that correctly?
    • It sounds like you’re saying that…
  • Change the frame/box/reality the biased/racist/ sexist person assumes is in play: “There are more elements here that take the issue beyond a binary classification: liberal/progressive, male/ female, black/white, Christian/Muslim, affluent/ impoverished, heterosexual/homosexual. It’s an intersection of at least four factors…”
  • Connect the offensive comments to larger, systemic causes of racism:
    “[After seeing a racial slur used by a teacher on Facebook] This behavior is linked to the increased suspension, expulsion, and detention of Hispanic youth in our schools and sets a bad example of behavior for the children witnessing the teacher’s racism that will influence the way these children are treated by their peers, and how they are treated as adults,” [and,] “That’s racist and it contributes to false beliefs about black workers that keeps them from even being interviewed for jobs…”
    — p. 34-35, Oluo
  • Raise bias awareness, suggest a change of wording: “How would that perspective be different if we used different words? For example, “What if we said, ‘our employees,’ instead of, “the Chinese in our company? How about, “retired veterans” instead of, “old geezers?” or, “our software engineer” instead of, “that autistic hire?”
  • Start with common ground: “Most of us want to feel like we have something to contribute, that we belong, would you agree?” “Neither one of us wants to be diminished by the other…” “What’s our goal here – to be heard? To vent and move on? Our children’s welfare?”
  • If it’s easier, start with discussions of the challenges with gender and religious discrimination, then move to racial discrimination.
  • Ask permission:
    • Would you mind if I shared an idea that comes to mind?
    • May I ask a question that may seem off topic but that may be helpful?
    • Would you care to work together to solve that problem?
    • I’d like to ask a someone else about how she handles such situations. Would that be okay with you? (based on – Toll, p. 75)
  • Give testimonials about what you believe. Choose not to remain indifferent. Realize you are modeling for others how to demonstrate courage of conviction, standing up for what you believe is morally right.
  • Borrow from educational coaching questions as you work through a concern with a colleague:
    • How do you feel the conversation went?
    • Would you have said anything differently?
    • What was your goal there?
    • What do you mean by….?
    • Are we diminished or threatened in some way by the elevation of someone else’s priorities/religion/ race/gender?
    • Is there another way to…?
    • How does that further your goal?
    • Describe a time when this was successful for you.
    • Let’s consider the situation from his/her point of view….
    • What does that tell you?
    • Is there anything to that?
    • Can you give an example of….?
    • Can you describe that further?
    • Let’s rehearse that moment
    • What do you recall about your own behavior during the conversation/lesson?
    • And what else?
    • How could we re-phrase that to better communicate your intent?
    • What did you do/decide that added to—or resolved—the issue?
    • “If this problem were solved what would it look like?” (Toll, p. 32)
    • What would a respected colleague do in this situation?
    • Let’s brainstorm some possibilities together.
  • Challenge statements of, “I’m colorblind,” and, “I don’t see race.” Start the conversation with, “You may not be aware of this, but such a mindset actually is a form of oppression of students of color. Could we talk about that for a moment?” Later, you may want to add, “When these statements are made by those in power, usually white teachers, they immediately diminish any student of color, declaring that their full identities and all that shapes them isn’t worth perceiving. I get that you’re trying to demonstrate that you see your students as individuals separate from any racial generalizations and stereotypes and thereby, you think you are not biased, but this very sentiment, let alone the act, comes from a place of privilege, being the majority race in power. It denies all that makes students of color full individuals. I wonder if we could use our privilege to confront and dismantle such thinking and practices.

In February 2020, high school teacher, author, and Education Week blogger, Larry Ferlazzo posed the question, “What are the best ways to respond to educators who say they don’t see race when they teach?” He invited experts and classroom practitioners to weigh in on the constructive responses. You can find the full, five-part series of blogs with dozens of responses at Larry’s Education Week blog site listed in the citing sources below. Here are a few of the compelling responses that have considerable power to spark conversation and transform thinking:

    How can you (an educator) have a relationship with me (a student) if you do not acknowledge all that makes me who I am? Diverse relationships should be sought out with the intention to honor one's whole self.
    — Makeda Brome, instructional math coach at Fort Pierce Westwood Academy in Fort Pierce, Florida, St. Lucie Public Schools Teacher of the Year 2019-20

    The impetus to pretend that one is colorblind when it comes to race is a misguided attempt to treat all students the same, when all students, even within any racial group, are different. The impetus to pretend that one is colorblind is essentially racist. It is wielding the power to erase the identity of students. To refuse to see.
    — Jamila Lyiscott, co-founder/director of the Center of Racial Justice and Youth Engaged Research, author of Black Appetite. White Food: Issues of Race, Voice, and Justice Within and Beyond the Classroom

    “Not seeing race” is an easy way out because if those educators saw race, they would see how systemic racism has affected every aspect of the education system. When educators tell me that race doesn't matter, I say that they've erased an opportunity to be anti-racist. They've squandered the moment and made it about them and their so called forward way of thinking instead of actually doing what's best for their students…
    — Julie Jee teaches 12 Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition and sophomore English

    The statement, “I don't see race,” represents the height of selfishness particularly when made by an educator. It says essentially, “I don't see your entire-life perspective as meriting my consideration. I will tell you how I think you should experience your existence.” …[It] is a selfish sentiment because it requires that students suspend their worldview in favor of vantage points that are more consistent with your own. It says, I will value your perspective given the extent to which it agrees with mine…. This is…a form of cultural imperialism.
    — Adeyemi Stembridge, Ph.D., works with districts around the country to identify root causes of achievement gaps and formulate pedagogy and policy-based efforts to redress the under performance of vulnerable student populations.

    [A]n important part of my response is to feel where I myself am still shaky as I engage with this person…Do I stumble or hedge when I…need to respond to an argument that blames marginalized people for their own marginalization? …So much of what I encounter every day as a white person will lead me to think that I am what's normal, and things are essentially as they should be. In the face of that, it is hard and sometimes lonely work to acknowledge that the world is wrong.
    — Sarah Norris works with educators across the country to create more equitable spaces for teaching and learning

    Racial history emerges as a source of pride when seen through the lens of resistance and survival against difficult odds…. Research shows that avoiding the topic with children serves to create racist mindsets, while investigating race correlates to higher self-esteem, increased self-confidence, academic achievement, and ethical leadership… Until racism can be seen, it can't be addressed. Until it is addressed, it can't be undone.
    — Martha Caldwell and Oman Frame, authors of Let's Get Real: Exploring Race, Class, and Gender Identities in the Classroom, and co founders of iChange Collaborative

Express Direct Desists

  • Stay silent, make steady eye contact.
  • Be direct: “I find that racist, and I’m not okay with that. It’s inappropriate.”
  • “You may not have meant to offend me, but you did. And this happens to people of color all the time. If you do not mean to offend, you will stop doing this.” - P. 173, Oluo
  • “You just assumed that without evidence. Let’s take a look at the evidence and correct that perspective.”
  • Explain that your being upset at the racist/ prejudicial comment or joke is not a matter of political correctness. It’s an indication that society has evolved and what was once funny or acceptable, is no longer so.
  • Walk away. Wait 24 hours. If possible, and no one will be harmed, wait one day, think clearly, then bring up the subject again with the offending person.

Avoid Blaming, Deflecting, Generalizing, or Being Dismissive

Examples of these unhelpful statements include:

  • “It’s your fault because you’re a racist.”
  • “No, it’s your fault because you expect something for nothing.”
  • “If __ people weren’t so self-centered…”
  • “If __ people weren’t so crime prone…”
  • “They can just get used to using the bathroom associated with their birth gender. It’s not the end of the world.”
  • “I didn’t intend it as a racist comment, they just took it that way.”
  • “This is just more liberal clamoring from Political Correctness Police.”
  • “There are already enough books on LGBTQ students. You’re just pushing your social agenda.”
  • “But these white, male authors are canon. To not teach them is not preparing them for society.”
  • “You’re such a conservative, you have no heart for the struggles of these people.”
  • “I can’t be racist: I don’t hate any people of color, I’m not in a white supremacist group, I don’t read those webpages, nor do I do any act of prejudice or racism with anyone I know.”

Helpful Dispositions During the Conversations

  • Give every clue that you value time with those of other cultures/orientations/faiths/politics as well as those with whom you disagree. Honor what the other person brings to the conversation. Make that respect visible.
  • Avoid publicly searching for a diplomatic way to word something before saying it: “Let me put this in a way you’d understand….” “How shall I put this?” This is demeaning of the other person, like he’s simplistic and incapable of understanding complexity.
  • If giving feedback in the moment, comment on decisions made and their outcomes: “I noticed you… As a result, we… Is that what you wanted?”
  • White silence in racist or biased situations or policies is consent. Say or do something if at all possible. It’s the same with other situations of bias/ prejudice against certain religions, gender, sexual orientation, or socio-economic class.
  • Avoid backing people into a corner unless their statements were unusually egregious. People don’t hear the message when they have to protect their honor or status. Help them find a road back to respect.
  • Speak in such a way as to continue thoughtful dialog, not prove that you are right or the problem is solved. It’s not about you providing the solution, it’s about the person arriving there.
  • Accept the fact that these conversations rarely tie up into a nice, neat bow where everyone sees the light and has come to their senses. We’ll have to be tolerant, at least at first, of messy human progress, ambiguity, unseen changes in perspective, irritation/pushback as a way to sort one’s thinking, and unresolved issues from the other person’s past—and our own!—affecting the current conversation.
  • Sit or stand next to the victim of someone being attacked for his or her race, gender, politics, or socioeconomic standing to assure them that they are not alone, and to communicate clearly to the offending person where you stand on the issue.
  • When considering whether or not to come to the aid of a person of color receiving racist or discriminatory comments, take the lead of that person and do it only if they are already engaged in it. (based on an idea in Oluo, p. 174)
  • Ask yourself if you’re deflecting to another topic rather than hearing and addressing the one raised by the other person.
  • “If you’re white and being called a racist, remember that you are not the only one being hurt.” p. 222, Oluo
  • We fight systemic racism not because we’re doing people of color a favor, but because this is what decent people do. “[We] are not owed gratitude or friendship from people of color for [our] efforts. We are not thanked for cleaning our own houses.” p. 210, Oluo
  • Not everyone in our place of employment shares our views regarding politics or race. Avoid assuming they do simply because they are members of this same group as you.
  • Use the first person, plural, we, not I or you as you can. It’s more inclusive, like we’re in this together.
  • Use tentative language (seems, might) and open ended questions that come across as a mutual partner in resolving the problem.
  • Breathe several times before responding.
  • Forgive yourself and others for making mistakes in these conversations, including inexact wording, unintended use of stereotypes, muddled thinking, and outright offending others.
  • Discuss systemic racism with people of our own color, and not just when there’s an upsetting racial incident. We’re able to respond more constructively when there is a racial/homophobic/religion-phobic incident when we already have the tools and perspective for the conversation.

With Prufrock, T.S Eliot had us sincerely wonder who we were to disturb the universe. Dylan Thomas admonished us to not, “go gentle into that good night,” and to instead, “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Let’s draw from this welling moral outrage and our all-consuming desire for a just world and find the courage to react in a timely and effective manner to bias and racism, whether it be subtle or overt. Let’s care enough about our students and our colleagues to extend candor and to walk with them –and our own limitations—as we share the path ahead. This courage comes more readily when we have specific and practiced tools, so to simply read a few paragraphs of an article and promise to do better doesn’t cut it. Let’s say these challenging statements aloud and in front of colleagues in rehearsal and in real use, making them our own. Let’s find meaning in those conversations, and with that, the stamina to dismantle our own biases, and the strength to confront that which would oppress another. No more, would’ve-could’ve-should’ve – we’re ready to respond.

Recommended Resources

Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future, Second Edition by Margaret Wheatley, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009

The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation by Elena Aguilar, Jossey-Bass, 2013

Instructional Coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction by Jim Knight, Corwin Press, 2007

Teaching Tolerance (Southern Poverty Law Center), www.splcenter.org/teaching-tolerance, www.tolerance.org/publication/chapter-1-civildiscourse- classroom-and-beyond

Mayorga, Edwin; Picower, Bree. What’s Race Got to Do With It? How Current School Reform Policy Maintains Racial and Economic Inequity, Peter Lang Publishers, 2015

Pollock, Mica; SchoolTalk: Rethinking What We Say About – And To – Students Every Day (Laying a Foundation for Equity), The New Press, New York, 2017

Stevenson, Howard C. Promoting Racial Literacy in Schools: Differences That Make a Difference, Teachers College, 2014

Tatum, Alfred W. Reading for Their Life (Re) Building the Textual Lineages of African American Adolescent Males, Heinemann, 2009

For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood…and the Rest of Y’all, Too: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education by Christopher Emdin, Beacon Press, 2017

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, Beacon Press, 2018

Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty: Strategies for Erasing the Opportunity Gap, Second Edition, by Paul C. Gorski, Teachers College Press, 2017

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Spiegel & Grau, 2015

Witnessing Whiteness: The Need to Talk About Race and How to Do It, Second Edition by Shelly Tochluk, R&L Education, 2010

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, One World, 2019

Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education by Noliwe Rooks, The New Press, 2017

Culture, Class, and Race: Constructive Conversations That Unite and Energize your School and Community by Brenda Campbell Jones, Shannon Keeny, and Franklin CampbellJones, ASCD , 2020

Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race, Sue, Derald Wing, Wiley, 2016

Sources cited:

Ferlazzo, Larry – Blog, “Saying 'I Don't See Color' Denies the Racial Identity of Students, “February 2, 2020 10:34 PM, https://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/classroom_qa_with_larry_ferlazzo/2020/02
/saying_i_dont_see_color_denies_the_racial_identity_of_students.html, Twitter: @Larryferlazzo.

Oluo, Ijeoma; So You Want to Talk about Race, Seal Press (Hachette Book Group), 2018

Toll, Cathy A. Educational Coaching: A Partnership for Problem Solving. ASCD. 2018.

Rick Wormeli is a long-time teacher, consultant, and author living in Herndon, Virginia. His book, The Collected Writings (So Far) of Rick Wormeli: Crazy, Good Stuff I Learned about Teaching Along the Way, is available from www.amle.org/store. His book, Fair Isn't Always Equal (second edition) (Stenhouse Publishers), was released in 2018, and his latest book, Summarization in any Subject: 60 Innovative, Tech-Infused Strategies for Deeper Student Learning, (second edition) (ASCD), co-authored with Dedra Stafford, was just released.

Published in AMLE Magazine, April 2020.
Author: Rick Wormeli
Number of views (10030)/Comments (0)/
Kinesthetic Mathematics in the Middle Grades

Kinesthetic Mathematics in the Middle Grades

Physical movement helps students engage in, investigate, and understand mathematics concepts


Young adolescents undergo more rapid and profound changes than at any other time in their development (NMSA, 2010). Adolescence is a pivotal stage for cognitive, social-emotional, and physical development. Middle school educators understand the developmental uniqueness of this age group and seek to provide activities that fully engage the young adolescent. One way to accomplish this is through kinesthetic learning. We define kinesthetic learning as an instructional strategy that connects physical movement and social interaction with academic content. Kinesthetic activities incorporate physical exercise, stretching, and cross-body movements and are specifically connected to subject matter. The goal is to get students actively engaged and “learning by doing” as they investigate mathematics concepts through physical movement.

The Importance of Physical Activity

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2018), adolescence “is a critical period for developing movement skills, learning healthy habits, and establishing a firm foundation for lifelong health and well-being” (p. 47). Regular physical activity in children and adolescents promotes health and fitness, and the beneficial effects of exercise on learning are well documented. Movement increases the heart rate and stimulates brain function, which facilitates a child’s ability to learn. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services specifically advocates physical activity for brain health. They state that regular physical activity “results in improved cognition including performance on academic achievement tests, executive function, processing speed, and memory” (p. 40) as well as a reduced risk of depression. The cognitive benefits of physical activity apply to all students, including those with conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Numerous studies support the conclusion that physical activity has a positive influence on memory, concentration, and classroom behavior. These studies indicate a significant positive correlation between fitness and standardized test scores in math. Furthermore, students who are more physically fit have fewer absences and fewer disciplinary referrals. These findings remain statistically significant when controlling for race, socioeconomic status, and gender.

Mathematics Content

There are many ways to actively engage students in learning mathematics content. Students “learn by doing” when they use their hands, arms, legs, and bodies as tools for learning. We advocate the use of purposeful movement that is directly connected to the content being taught. This is very different than asking students to recite multiplication tables while doing jumping jacks. We argue that many students have procedural knowledge but lack conceptual understanding.

Instead of asking students to memorize isolated facts and algorithms, consider asking students to dramatize mathematics concepts through motion. For example, students can act out points on a Cartesian coordinate system and walk through shifting and stretching functions. A Twister mat can be used to introduce the concept to younger students. Other kinesthetic activities might include acting out operations on a number line; teaching translations, rotations, and reflections by dancing the Electric Slide; and finding the mean, median, and mode of a data set after constructing a human graph. What follows are descriptions of three kinesthetic activities that can be used to support and extend specific mathematics concepts.

The Metric Handshake/Metric Salute

Many students in the U.S. struggle to associate benchmarks to metric units of length. In order to strengthen their knowledge, hands-on measuring is beneficial. Estimating using familiar body measures can assist with foundational understanding. For example, for a young adolescent, the distance between one shoulder bone and the length of the other arm with fingers extended is about one meter. The distance between the space from the thumb and pinky is approximately one decimeter. The distance across the tip of the pinky is approximately one centimeter. The thickness of a fingernail is about one millimeter. This leads to a fun, cool handshake students can use to greet one another.

Listed here are step-by-step motions for practicing four basic benchmark measures of length.

  1. While holding your right hand with fingers extended to your left shoulder in a saluting formation, call out “Salute.”
  2. Extend your right hand, palm down with fingers straight, from the left shoulder position to fully extended to the right. Say, “meter.”
  3. Move palm up and extend thumb and pinky finger (pointer, tall man, and ring man fingers curled down into palm). Say, “decimeter.”
  4. Hold the pinky in a vertical position while folding in all other fingers. Call out, “centimeter.”
  5. Rotate the pinky a quarter turn to display the thickness of the fingernail. Call out, “millimeter.”
  6. For additional cool factor and pizzazz, students can join pinkies to finalize the metric signals in a trendy handshake.

Angle Exercises

Angle exercises utilize the arms as the rays of an angle. While everyone is standing, the leader calls a type of angle while the others attempt to model it. To model a right angle, for example, hold one arm parallel to the floor in a horizontal direction and the other in a vertical direction. To model an acute angle, position the arms closer together with a narrow space between them. Modeling an obtuse angle moves the arms wider. Arms extended in opposite directions represents a straight angle of 180°. To challenge students and accelerate the pace, gradually increase the call rate of the angle types. If space is limited, it may be necessary to use fingers instead of arms to demonstrate the angles.

Once the basic angle concepts are introduced, prompt students to consider other measurements. If a right angle is 90°, what is the measure of half that angle? What type of angle is it? What if an angle is exactly halfway between a right angle and a straight angle? What type of angle is it? What is its measure? Discuss that an acute angle is between 0° and 90°. Discuss characteristics of obtuse angles and the measures between 90° and 180°. Progress to calling more complex angles using specific measurements. The students’ performance with the arm motions can provide valuable formative assessment opportunities.

Angle exercises establish benchmark measurements and set the foundation for students’ progression to measuring angles with a protractor. We can then connect their arm motions with the procedure for precision measuring with the protractor.

Quadrilateral Stretches

Help your students learn the characteristics of quadrilaterals. Students often find it difficult to classify quadrilaterals and distinguish between the categories. Is a square a rectangle? Is a rectangle a square? Are all rectangles squares? Are rectangles parallelograms? Some rectangles are rhombi. All squares are rhombi, rectangles, and parallelograms. Quadrilateral stretches will give students the opportunity to model quadrilaterals and explore how small changes impact their similarities and differences.

  1. With a little stretch of the imagination and the arms, students can make air figures modeling quadrilaterals. Start by demonstrating a common quadrilateral. To model a square, hold both arms up in front of your body and bent at the elbows. With forearms straight up and equidistant, the width represents congruent sides. Imagine the top and bottom sides. With all sides equal and right angles, the quadrilateral is a square.
  2. From this position, stretch the square by sliding the forearms to the right (and/or left). The quadrilateral changes to a rectangle (and technically a parallelogram). Lean both forearms to the right to transform the rectangle into a unique parallelogram. This demonstrates a lazy, leaning parallelogram by holding both arms up bent at the elbows, shoulder length apart, and tilted in the same direction. The arms represent the width. Imagine the top and bottom sides as the length. In a parallelogram, opposite sides are congruent and parallel. Keeping the forearms tilted, slide the arms toward each other until the width aligns with the height. The parallelogram has now achieved another title, transforming into a rhombus. Straighten the shape with vertical forearms again and re-make the square.
  3. Vary the order of the quadrilateral stretches and discuss how stretching and tilting, widening, narrowing, transforms the shape and changes its properties. Slide the forearms back together and upright to re-create the square. Discuss the various names of the figure. Tilt the square to create a rhombus. Stretch the square to create a rectangle.
  4. Start with a leaning parallelogram. Slide the forearms in to make a rhombus. Stand it upright to make a square. Stretch the square to make a rectangle. All squares are parallelograms, rectangles, and rhombi. Some rhombi are squares, but only when they have right angles.
  5. Be sure to emphasize that there are several ways to model parallelograms. All square, rectangles, and rhombi are classified as parallelograms.
  6. Create a trapezoid by collapsing one vertical side of a square or rectangle. Identify the stretch as modeling a “right trapezoid.” What figure can be demonstrated by collapsing both vertical sides—an isosceles trapezoid.
  7. To challenge students and accelerate the pace, gradually increase the call rate of the types of quadrilaterals.


Middle level educators value young adolescents and understand the complex developmental needs of this age group. Kinesthetic learning facilitates students’ physical development by providing more opportunities for movement; social development with more interaction; emotional development with more engagement; and cognitive development with active learning. Kinesthetic strategies offer purposeful learning experiences and provide alternatives to whole-class lecture. Students learn by doing as they move their bodies to investigate mathematics concepts. We all want our students to be active learners rather than passively receiving information. We argue that physical movement and social interaction are essential in the middle school classroom. In this way, teachers can meet the unique developmental needs of young adolescents while effectively teaching mathematics content.


National Middle School Association. (2010). This we believe: Keys to educating young adolescents. Westerville, OH: Author.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2018). Physical activity guidelines for Americans (2nd ed.). Washington, DC. Retrieved from: https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/pdf/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf

Deborah McMurtrie, PH.D. is an assistant professor and middle level education coordinator /program director for South Carolina’s Center of Excellence in Middle-level Interdisciplinary Strategies for Teaching (CEMIST) at the University of South Carolina, Aiken.

Bridget Coleman, PH.D. is an assistant professor and leads the Secondary Mathematics Education program at the University of South Carolina, Aiken. She’s also the past president of the South Carolina Professors of Middle Level Education (SC-PoMLE).

Published in AMLE Magazine, April 2020.
Author: Deborah McMurtrie and Bridget Coleman
Number of views (887)/Comments (0)/
Topics: STEMTeaching
12345678910 Last

Related Resources

Topic Matter Experts

Bring professional learning to your school. More info...